It's kind of funny how some sportswriters have a certain predictable focus about them. Jerry Tiption of the Lexington Herald-Leader is such a writer.
Today, Jerry has an article that demonstrates his focus perfectly -- Jerry is an unrepentant UK scold, and every article he writes has a way of accentuating the negative and downplaying the positive. I have seen many comments on here noting this as well, so I know I'm not the only one who notices.
But now that I have buried Jerry, let me praise him. His article today about the SEC Basketball coach's summer teleconference of yesterday is right on the dot, not because of its negative tone, but quite frankly, because he is reporting it accurately. The SEC coaches as a group were very negative toward the recruiting of younger players, and even though few of the media outlets noted it, this was implicit criticism directed squarely at the new University of Kentucky basketball coach. Tipton's article accurately reflects this implicit, and even semi-direct, criticism.
Bruce Pearl, in particular, took several shots directly at Gillispie which no one seemed to notice. The first one was this:
"The more information I have, the better decisions I make," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said. "I need to see the kid play a lot.
"But by the time I'm done deciding (on the merits of a prospect), the player may have committed."
Yeah Bruce, well, "Duh!". If everyone could just wait until the recruits are seniors to begin actually recruiting them, this conversation wouldn't be happening. Every coach would prefer to watch more games before offering a scholarship. Folks, this is criticism concealed as self-deprecating humor. Pearl went on to say this about Kentucky's loss of Morris and successful recruiting for 2007:
"If you could take Patrick Patterson, Alex Legion and an eighth-grader to be named later, I would say it's a good trade for Randolph Morris," Pearl said. "That's how much I think of Patrick Patterson and Legion and what a great start Billy is off to already." [Emphasis mine]
Once again, criticism couched in humor, disguised as praise. Gillispie has offered no eighth-graders, and Pearl knows it. But he wants Gillispie (and the rest of the world savvy enough to pick up on it) that he doesn't like Gillispie's impact on the SEC so far, and he is feeling threatened by him. He lets that leak a bit later, when he said that he "feels pressure" to recruit earlier and earlier, but that "I'd prefer my focus as a college coach emphasize that a sophomore be committed to his 10th-grade year and doing well in geometry class." Once more, a not-so-subtle dig at Gillispie.
If you are getting the impression I don't like Bruce Pearl, you are completely correct. I loathe him as much as any coach in the game. I'm sure many of you will remember JL's post on the subject, but let me remind you of some comments Pearl and his wife Kim made to Milwaukee Magazine back when he was coach at UW-Milwaukee (note - the link has been removed and the article is no longer available, but this part is memorialized on my machine):
And so it was that the Jewish coach's road to redemption would begin in Evansville, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River, where scarcely a synagogue could be found.
"It was South," says Pearl. "Shit, it was a little too close to Kentucky."
"It was way too close to Kentucky," says Kim [Pearl]. "I didn't care for it. It was a little too red neck. Very red neck.... My kids were the only Jews in their school. So when we had Jewish holidays, they had to go to school because school wasn't closed."
Those comments weren't just an insult -- they were mean-spirited racialism and frankly, tantamount to fighting words. They day he recants that bile, I will forgive and forget. Until then, like the Fremen in Dune, "Never to forgive. Never to forget." I will grant that it is possible I am wrong about Pearl's intentions, because so much is lost in the translation over the telephone. But for my money, Pearl is a jerk, and this is just one more reason for me to continue to dislike him.
But Pearl wasn't the only SEC head coach to attack Gillispie's youth movement. Dave Odom of South Carolina, a man I do respect, said "I don't want my coaches involved in that type of recruiting." Fine, Dave, I can understand that sentiment. But unless the NCAA acts, this is the wave of the future, and you are already in enough trouble with the Gamecock faithful as it is. I'm not sure that is a position you can afford to take if you care about remaining in Columbia.
So there you have it - my comments on the SEC teleconference. Most of the rest was predictable fluff, but I am surprised nobody but Tipton has so far noticed how surprisingly confrontational this teleconference was. The only person to keep well within the bounds of decorum was Billy Donovan, and to his credit, he didn't dodge questions about his off-season adventures. But Donovan said remarkably little, and it was noted by the press that he has generally been dodging the media since the Orlando debacle. I am not criticizing that, it may be the best thing to do right now. Just another observation.